The Civil War in Kilkenny 25th April to May 3rd 1922

A 1922 photograph of Cleere’s Bar on John Bridge shows owner Joh Cleere and his son John Jnr

In early May 1922, nearly two months prior to the official beginning of the Civil War, Kilkenny anti-Treaty IRA units took over 15 buildings in Kilkenny City, most notably St Canice’s Cathedral and Kilkenny Castle.
Over the next three weeks,The Kilkenny Observer in conjunction with Cois Céim take a closer look at events of the time

The opening salvos of the Civil War had yet to be fired. This did not happen until June 28TH 1922, when the Four Courts in Dublin was bombarded by the National Army. There was military activity in Kilkenny in the last week in April when a large force of Army Executive invaded the city on the Monday night April 25th into Tuesday morning. The citizens were greatly perturbed to find that these forces had taken possession of business and strategic positions throughout the city. Business however continued as usual, people began to gather at an early stage to discuss the situation that had arisen. There was great activity on the part of the invading force. Young men visited various shops commandeering food supplies, cooking utensils, sacks to be used as sand bags, mattresses etc., and were conveyed by lorry to the various premises occupied by them. This was the first indication the public had, that the invaders planned a prolonged stay. It was understood the invading force were made up of various panels from Tipperary, Waterford and Kilkenny. Many of the young men came from Kilkenny city itself. What was it all about was the question passing through the minds of the citizens. Whatever was going to happen would happen at 9 o’clock that evening. The stage being set, developments were not long delayed. At least twelve buildings were occupied by the Executive forces by the early hours of Tuesday morning. The workhouse, the Imperial Hotel, Arthur J.Wilsdon’s premises. The Working men’s club in Kieran Street, the Belfry and Round Tower of St Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny Castle, John O’Rourke’s premises in Green Street, Mr John Lacey’s residence at Greens bridge. City Hall, The forge at St Canice’s steps, and the Police barracks in Parliament and John Street.


Shortly after 11 0’clock a party of regular soldiers from the Military Barracks marched in the direction of Greens bridge and were soon in action. The first position of the occupying force to be attacked was the residence of Mr John Lacey of Greens bridge. This house to which a licensed bar is attached was recently purchased for a big price from John Kerwick of the Parade by John Cleere of Johns Quay who intended to open the grocery and licensed business there. Without much ado the attack was opened, it did not last very long but such was the intensity of the firing the outside of the house was dotted with bullet marks. The interior also showed evidence of considerable damage from rifle fire. The position was made so hot for the occupants that they surrendered in quick time. They were then made prisoners and taken to the military barracks.

The regulars then proceeded to dislodge the occupants of Mr. O’Rourke’s premises at the other side of the bridge. A machine gun was placed in position on Greens bridge and trained on the premises, and almost immediately the place was surrendered and the occupants taken prisoners. After a lull of about an hour, firing between the rival forces was resumed at about 6.30 on Tuesday evening and was continued with great intensity up to about 10.30. During the evening the Executive forces evacuated the City Hall. On resumption of operations regular soldiers attacked John Street Barracks and after a brief but fierce encounter the barracks was surrounded and the occupants taken prisoners. Earlier in the afternoon a regular soldier was wounded in the face, a second regular was wounded during the John street attack by a sniper.

During Tuesday night or early Wednesday, Parliament Barracks , St. Francis Abbey Brewery, and the Workhouse building were evacuated by Executive troops. Many of them succeeded in gaining entrance to the Castle and their comrades. Practically every vantage point around the city was occupied by forces from G.H.Q. and there was considerable sniping including St. Canices’ Tower. Now a rifle shot resounded from the Tower then an answering volley from another point. This continued for hours with an occasional burst of machine gun fire. It was reported on Wednesday that a young Kilkenny lady occupied a position as a sniper.

On Wednesday an incident occurred in High Street, when three young ladies, members of Cumann na mBan were held up by two soldiers as they entered the General Post Office. They were escorted into the Post Office and detained for some time. About to be searched and questioned an officer gave the order for their release. The ladies were Miss Una Egan, Miss Stallard, and Miss Dooley.

Part two of The Civil War in Kilkenny continues next week


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